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Monday, June 7, 2010
Phil Jackson on Tex Winter, coaching

By Brian Kamenetzky

If I might take a brief pause from discussion of Sunday's Game 2 loss...

Before Game 2, coaching icon and former Lakers assistant Tex Winter was honored with the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, given, in the words of NBA Coaches Association president Rick Carlisle, to "a person... who have over a career set a high standard of integrity, competitive excellence and a commitment to the promotion of the NBA game."

A nice honor, but another reminder Winter isn't, and perhaps is unlikely to be, a member of the Hall of Fame.

Phil Jackson, as ardent a supporter of Winter's candidacy as anyone, was asked repeatedly in his pregame news conference questions about Winter, his contributions, the triple post offense in the modern game, and coaching generally. There's some interesting stuff in there, so click below for the transcript.

Q. What did you think as you sat back there and watched Tex receive that award?


PHIL JACKSON: You know, it was heartwarming to see two guys that you've looked up to as a coach receive an award. Obviously this is something that doesn't have a long tradition. It's just a new award, but I think it's something that's great to recognize, two of the guys that have really dedicated a lot of time to basketball.

Tex has flown to Iceland, to The Philippines, to New Zealand, all around the world, teaching and coaching basketball, and a lot of it was done for meals, flight and getting put up and boarded up and feeding him. Feeding Tex is something entirely different. You have to know Tex to know that feeding him is a proposition. But it was nice to see him get this award because he's dedicated a lot of his life to basketball.

Q. If you hadn't come across him, given your offense, the triangle and all that kind of stuff and the rings, what impact would that have taken away from your life?

PHIL JACKSON: When I went to Chicago from Puerto Rico to interview with Stan Albeck back for a coaching assistant's position in I think it was '86, maybe it was '85, summer of '85. Jerry Krause was just named general manager of the Chicago Bulls, told me that his first hiring was Tex Winter. I had met Tex one time at an airport years before. I knew his reputation because he was with the Houston Rockets when I was a player in '70, '71. He coached the Rockets for a couple years. And he had great respect among players who had played against his team. So I knew of his reputation.

But Jerry Krause's idea for Tex was that he would be a coach's coach. Unfortunately that combination with Stan Albeck did not work out. A couple years later I came back and was again given the opportunity to work with Tex as an assistant coach, and Johnny Bach, another kind of legendary coach in his own right from the east coast, and for those two years that I was assistant coach at that particular time, I got educated about all parts of historic basketball since the basketball had become seamless, basically, '35, '34, from those years on they remember all the players, and one was west coast style basketball, one was east coast style basketball, so it was very informative.
In the summertime during our rookie and free agent years, I was with Tex, working with him during that time, and learned the system so to speak, and that really gave us a balance of what we wanted to get accomplished with our basketball team at that time, which was the Chicago Bulls.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about how not being able to play in that first Finals in New York, where you were kind of working as an assistant with Red Holzman, helped you prepare to become a coach?

PHIL JACKSON: Well, the unfortunate circumstance of having an injury that cost a season was difficult. It cost four games of a season almost in my second year. But then to miss the following season when it was such a spectacular year for the Knicks was almost devastating. But during that period of time Red Holzman would come and watch me play college basketball and was the scout for the Knicks, and was instrumental in my drafting in that organization. It kind of preserved my integrity by eliciting my attention and support. He didn't have an assistant coach but he asked me what I saw and what I'd do and various things, and kept me involved in the game in a way in which I had to think about the game.

I had a curious enough mind to ask him what he thought about the game or about a game when he was going out on the court. So I was the last guy in the locker room usually before he headed out to the court. So we had a lot of conversations about basketball and about the game and the match-ups that were going on.

I think it was the involvement itself, the personal involvement that Red showed in my career that helped me stay attached to basketball at this particular time.

Q. How is the process of becoming a good coach or great coach different now than it was then? Just seems like there's so much less time for someone to develop that skill.

PHIL JACKSON: You know, I think that there's so many more tools available. You have access to, you know, such opportunities. You can see all games, you can see all the various styles. You can replay everything that you want to replay, those particular things.

When I was with the New York Knicks we had access to network feeds, so we could go watch Boston play Atlanta at NBC headquarters and they'd let us in there to watch it. Usually I'd get [Bill] Bradley or somebody else to go watch with me and we'd watch what our next opponent is doing. In this day and age you can catch it everywhere. So as a fan of basketball, as a person who wants to observe styles, you can see all the various styles that are going on. I think it's much more accessible. I think it does accelerate the advancement, too, of coaches.

Q. I'm wondering, for you growing up in the Dakotas as a young player, did you really have an interest in coaching back then? And at what point was it for you that really stimulated that desire to pursue it?

PHIL JACKSON: No, I never had an interest in coaching. I had coached -- when I was in college I coached baseball. It was a summer thing. I was fortunate I had a couple state champion baseball teams in Babe Ruth, which is an age 13- to 15-year-old kids. So I was 19 and 20 years old coaching these kids at that age and knew I liked coaching, but I never thought I'd be involved in it.

Q. Why is it do you think, if you could just bring it up again, that teams don't employ the triangle triple post as prominently as you've done it the last 20 years? It can't be all Tex. Is it the lack of stability in the coaching profession, the lack of personnel? Why do you think they don't go with it as much as you've gone with it?

PHIL JACKSON: Well, there's a number of things that have to be done to coach it, and a lot of it has to be build-up drills, and it takes times. Those build-up drills you have to instill in players from day one of training camp all the way through. There are some skills that aren't taught right now in basketball that you have to unlearn, or habits that have to be unlearned to adapt to this system. Two-guard front is still a little bit awkward in a lot of kids' eyes. It's usually point guards and wings and posts now in games, so that's a little different, too.

It presents a little different format. I think, too, we spend a lot of time on defense in this game, and sometimes it's easier just to do things that are similar or alike that make it easier so that you can spend limited time doing offense and more time spent defensively trying to work with teams.

Q. The people who had blocked Tex from the Hall of Fame say while he was a college coach, most of his time in the NBA was as an assistant coach. This award today sort of refutes some of that. What do you think Tex's role in the history of the game has been?


PHIL JACKSON: Well, first of all, I know that Tex would have said he was not the inventor of the sideline triangle. Sam Barry was his coach here at USC, Bill Sharman was one of his teammates. They both came in the NBA and coached sideline triangle basketball. Bill Sharman had success in the ABA and the NBA. Tex was an innovator of that triangle by using a certain amount of reactive principles to it, key passes he calls it. In that process he was very willing to teach people about the system. You never hear anything about the system, but very willing to go out and proselytize his game. His coaching record was impeccable. For the first 20 years of basketball that he coached he was one of the top coaches ever in the game. He chose to go to the NBA. And then when he came out of the NBA after a couple years, he went to Northwestern which was considered a school that you couldn't win at, and so his record changed a lot.

But he served as president of the NABC, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, which is the NCAA Coaches Association. For a number of years he was on their advisory board. And I used to kid him that all the people that would have voted him in the Hall of Fame had passed away, so he had nobody to vouch for him at that time.

And the new breed that came in were saying he was an assistant coach, but Tex wasn't just any assistant coach, that's for sure. He was a guy that I designated moments of practice for him to take the team and skill the team in the drills that he knew well to help build the team into the kind of team that could react to the things that they still try to react to today.